Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
After writing and directing two of the best parodies and comedies of his generation, it was time for Edgar Wright to try something new. But for him, “new” (thankfully) didn’t mean something more traditional. Instead, it meant something challenging, and that challenge came in the form of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which would not only serve as his first adaptation, but also his first film not made in close collaboration with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.
The film, based on the graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley, follows Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), the bassist in a struggling garage band, who falls in love with delivery girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), but has to defeat her seven evil exes in battle before winning her over.
Sure, certain “Wright-isms” are still there – the energetic, highly-stylized camerawork, the slacker protagonist, and emphasis on music, but as a whole, this is a radically different kind of film from a filmmaker who, despite having made two prior masterpieces, still felt he had much more to prove.
Visual comedy is still a top priority for Wright here, and it’s a skill that he hones and crafts to pure perfection in this film in particular. There are so many creative visuals, whether it’s in a camera trick, or a visual effect, that make the comedy so hysterical and the style and tone so unique and memorable.
A lot of the visual comedic opportunities come from the freedom Wright had within this film’s premise and world. Based on a graphic novel that, itself, was highly inspired by classic video games, Wright was able to incorporate characteristics from both mediums into this film, resulting in a finished product that’s part movie, part comic book, and part 8-bit video game. There really is no other movie out there that’s been able to combine different artistic mediums so seamlessly.
The action sequences showcase an entirely new side to Wright’s skills as a director that had yet to be seen. The stunts are incredible and largely practical, making these video game-esque battles feel more tangible and engaging than your typical CGI-heavy setpiece from any given blockbuster. And on top of that, each fight is unique unto each other, incorporating different styles of combat and comedy; nearly every fight ends with the defeated ex bursting into a pile of coins, as if Scott has just won an arcade game.
And the best part about the action is that it’s all character-driven. None of the action is hollow, each has its fair share of substance behind it, whether it’s comedic or dramatic. Of course, Scott is always at the center of these fights, and it’s always him who walks away impacted the most by them. He’s awkward, he’s shy, and he’s… kind of a tool. He’s selfish, using other people, particularly the girls he dates, to seek validity in his own slacker lifestyle.
Yet, as hard as it might sound on paper to get behind a character like this, the fact that he’s deeply flawed makes his journey all the more enriching. While his arc may end up a little more convoluted than it should have, considering who he ends up with as the film concludes, at its core, this movie is about self-empowerment and self-respect, and that’s a message we could all take something from.
And who better to play such an awkward weirdo other than Michael Cera? He’s not exactly testing his boundaries as an actor with this role, but that’s also why he’s so perfectly cast here. Cera’s mousy, nerdy demeanor and mannerisms fit so well into the character that they might as well be one in the same.
But it’s not just Cera who’s relishing the part he was given. Kieran Culkin’s dry, sarcastic delivery provides a unique spin on the voice-of-reason trope, Mark Webber’s performance as the nervous frontman of Scott’s band makes for some of the film’s most underrated gags, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead does fine work, as well.
However, the best part about the film’s supporting cast are the evil exes themselves. Not all of them stand out; the battle with the Katayanagis would have easily been forgotten if not for the amazing visuals and music. But Chris Evans as the pompous action movie star is a low-key revelation; he’s only in the movie for a couple of scenes, but when he’s on screen, he commands it with comedic genius, overplaying the macho action hero part to perfection (“The first click you hear is gonna be me hanging up… the second is me pulling the trigger.”).
Brie Larson is devilishly funny as Scott’s ex, Envy Adams, and her introductory “Black Sheep” is my favorite of the entire soundtrack. Brandon Routh’s hyper-vegan stereotype character is another highlight, and Satya Bhabha’s scene as the first evil ex served as the perfect way to set up the main conflict – it’s strange and completely out of the blue, and results in a battle that may as well have been pulled straight from Street Fighter.
I simply can’t talk about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World without also mentioning the soundtrack. Along with the video game and comic book-inspired visual and sound effects, it’s part of what gives this movie such a unique aesthetic. Boasting a roster full of indie and underground rockers like Beck, Cornelius, and Dan the Automator, the music here is blistering and catchy, and every song is incorporated into the film so flawlessly.
The film’s biggest failure isn’t even it’s own fault. Instead, it was it’s miserable box office returns. On a budget of approximately $85 million, it barely managed to make even half of that. This is such a one-of-a-kind and original movie, and one that maybe audiences weren’t ready to accept just yet. Luckily, it’s since developed a cult following, but it’s films like this, ones that offer us something new, ones that strive to be something more ambitious, that deserve instant success.
Here’s to hoping Baby Driver will make the money that it will inevitably deserve.
The Verdict: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was a bold new challenge for Edgar Wright to take on, fusing film, retro video games, and comic books into one. It’s quite the feat, and it’s one that he accomplished near-flawlessly. With an incomparably-unique visual style, seamless effects, and an infectious soundtrack, there really isn’t another movie out there like this one, and it’s another testament to Wright’s talent, that seems to know no bounds.